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One in six adults ‘have experienced economic abuse’

Vicky Shaw, PA Personal Finance Correspondent
·3-min read

One in six (16%) adults say they have experienced economic abuse in a current or former relationship – and for some people it started when their income was affected by the Covid-19 crisis – a report has found.

The UK-wide Know Economic Abuse report was launched by the Co-operative Bank and charity Refuge, who said the true scale may be much higher as people do not always recognise what economic abuse is.

Economic abuse – sometimes called financial abuse – happens when someone attempts to control another person’s money. This can include stopping them working, draining jointly held bank accounts and amassing debts.

The vast majority (85%) of people who experienced economic abuse in their current or former relationship also reported other forms of domestic abuse, including physical, sexual and psychological abuse.

The report said that while economic abuse often starts early on in a relationship, it can be triggered by other events, such as moving in together, getting married or joining finances together in some way.

Some people have experienced economic abuse since the Covid-19 lockdown started. This correlates with a spike in demand to Refuge’s National Domestic Abuse Helpline during lockdown.

For more than a third (35%) of those who first experienced economic abuse during the Covid-19 crisis, their partner first became abusive when their pay decreased as a result of the lockdown.

The Co-operative Bank and Refuge suggested banks and credit reference agencies should implement a credit rating repair system to help protect economic abuse survivors.

Banks, other financial services institutions, and specialist domestic abuse organisations should also carry out a review of the impact of online and digital banking on survivors of economic abuse and produce recommendations for change in 2021, they added.

Maria Cearns, managing director, people and customer, the Co-operative Bank, said: “Our message to customers who might be experiencing economic abuse is we are here to help you.”

Lisa King, director of communications and external relations at Refuge, said: “This research confirms that economic abuse isn’t going away, and it needs to be challenged now more than ever.

“Each and every day, Refuge staff support women who have had their economic independence taken away from them by abusive partners. The impact on their finances continues for many years, often long after the relationship has ended.

“Economic abuse rarely occurs in isolation, and is frequently experienced alongside physical, sexual, or psychological abuse.”

Two surveys, each involving more than 4,000 people, were used for the report.

Last week, NatWest said that it is reviewing how customers who have been pressured into building up debts as part of an abusive relationship can be better supported. That review will be carried out in conjunction with domestic abuse charity SafeLives.

Coronation Street has recently highlighted economic abuse in its storylines, when Geoff Metcalfe took control of his wife Yasmeen’s finances as part of a wider pattern of abusive behaviour.